TC Helicon VoiceLive Play Review
Stepping away from stringed instruments, let’s take a look at my latest toy: a TC Helicon VoiceLive Play. Vocal processing is a dangerous area to enter as you can end up losing the human touch, but the VoiceLive Play seems to have found the perfect balance.
So what’s the story…
Item: TC Helicon VoiceLive Play
Inspiration: I’ve been looking at vocal processors for a long time but everything I found was too expensive, too complicated, or too harsh. The motivation is primarily around home recording but I didn’t want to limit myself to software – I wanted a box! The real hook for me was watching the extensive set of video manuals for the VoiceLive Play that TC Helicon have produced and can be found at their website. It just seemed so easy to use.
Image: This is a very sturdy effect unit – really well built and the footswitches are very solid. The layout of the functions is great for simplicity in a live setting, are reasonably easy to navigate around when setting things up at home. I do wish that the software that you use when hooking the unit up via USB was a bit more user friendly – it’s more of a “present management” tool than a software editor. Still, I don’t see myself necessarily doing a lot of tweaking beyond setting up a series of basic patches, but we’ll see how that goes.
Investment: At $299 retail it’s really well priced in my mind – I picked up an ex-demo unit a bit cheaper so certainly not complaining.
Intrinsic Qualities: With most effects units, the problem can be that they deliver a million different sounds but only a handful of them are useable! The VoicePlay Live comes with more than 200 patches (and heaps of room for more custom user generated ones) and I was immediately struck by how “real” they all sounded. Sure, you can tweak the settings and turn into a Barry White Cyborg Robot if you want, but the presets are all pretty subtle and eminently usable.
The two key areas for me are the ability to play around with harmonies and also pitch control. The harmonies are really clever and very versatile – and it’s very easy to dial in just what you want. The pitch control is equally clever – especially when you don’t overdo it and stray into heavy auto-tune mode. The unit features small microphones that can pick up the pitch of instruments around it, or you can connect it to your DAW and use that to establish what key you are in. It really works!
There’s a heap of stuff this box can do that I’m yet to explore, but I’d recommend the videos on the site as well as downloading the manual to really get a feel for everything.
Intangibles: Probably the best thing for a non-singer like me is that it’s made me think more about my singing rather than just whacking down a vocal track and hoping for the best.
If not this then: I considered the next model up – the GTX that allows you to connect a guitar to it, but that would have been paying for something I wouldn’t use. There’s also the Boss VE-20 that gets decent reviews.
The new format for doing a brief reviews of the various bits of great that I use is called the “I” Test: 7 categories that are a bit different from the standard review that reads like it’s lifted from a guitar magazine. My “I Test” takes into account not just the performance characteristics (as normal reviews do) but also addresses the real reason we buy stuff: the 7 “I”s – what’s the Item, Inspiration (why did I get it), Image (what’s it look like), Investment (bargain or just lust), Intrinsic qualities (what does it do), Intangibles (sometimes the reason you got it doesn’t fall into any other category!), and If not this then… (did I look at alternatives).